Nerd Culture

Game On Expo 2017: Here's Everything You Need to Know About This Year's Event

A scene from last year's Game On Expo.
A scene from last year's Game On Expo. Benjamin Leatherman
The organizers of Game On Expo probably wish they could move as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog right about now.

It’s less than a week to go until the annual three-day event, which focuses on video games and gaming culture, returns for its third edition. And there are a ton of things to mark off their checklists before they can press start on this year’s event, which runs from Friday, August 11, to Sunday, August 13.

“Yeah, we're all crazy busy these days,” says John Lester, co-founder of Game On Expo. “Right now, we're just finalizing and smoothing things out. It’s a lot of fine-tuning stuff with logistics and guests and tweaking of the vendors and games.”

And there are a lot more things to do while gearing up for this year’s Expo, probably because it has leveled up considerably since last year’s event.

Over the last 12 months, Game On Expo has moved across the Valley from its previous home at the Mesa Convention Center to much bigger digs inside the South Building of the Phoenix Convention Center. It’s also doubled (or even quadrupled) in size with twice the number of vendors, special guests, and (of course) games.

click to enlarge A Game On Expo attendee plays Nintendo's infamous Virtual Boy at last year's event. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A Game On Expo attendee plays Nintendo's infamous Virtual Boy at last year's event.
Benjamin Leatherman
Because, after all, that’s the crux of the event. Just like at its first two editions, the games at Game On Expo will run the gamut from arcade and pinball machines to home consoles, as well as gaming of the handheld, tabletop, and collectible card varieties.

And, as we said, it’s bigger than ever, along with everything else about the event.

“We're literally doubling our square footage that we had last year at the [Mesa Convention Center],” Lester says. “And we have more than two times more guests. We'll have over four times more free-play consoles to play from. A larger free-play arcade, and our tabletop gaming and cosplay programming is bigger.”

There will also be a massive auction of rare gaming-related items and consoles, live music, a photo booth, and various tournaments and competitions.

This year's Expo will feature some of the event's most high-profile special guests to date, including Patricia Summersett from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchison of The Walking Dead games, and GLaDOS herself, Ellen McClain. The 25th anniversary of the original Mortal Kombat arcade game will also be celebrated with a gathering of several martial artists and actors who played its characters, like Daniel Pesina (a.k.a. Johnny Cage).

Unlike its setup in 2016, when events at the Expo were spread across several buildings, everything will be in one location.

“Last year, we were so spread out, we had the arcade and music at the [Marriott Mesa Hotel] and the vendors over in the convention center,” Lester says. “So we consolidated a lot of that so it's all under one roof.”

Here’s a look at everything you need to know about Game On Expo 2017.

click to enlarge A Bowser cosplayer from last year's Game On Expo. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
A Bowser cosplayer from last year's Game On Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman
Dates and Times: Game On Expo 2017 runs from 1 to 11 p.m. on Friday, August 11; from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, August 12; and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 13. Anyone who purchases the “Level Up” admission package can get in an hour before the general public each day.

The event will take place at the Phoenix Convention Center’s South Building, 33 South Third Street.

Prices: If you only want to attend part of the Expo, daily admission is $20 on Friday, $30 on Saturday, and $25 on Sunday. Full event passes covering the entire weekend are $45.

If you’d rather live large like Michael De Santa in Grand Theft Auto V, special "Level Up" packages are $80 and include a Game On Expo T-shirt, button, and poster, as well as early bird access.

Age Limits: It’s an all-ages event open to everyone. Children up to 12 years old can get in for $10 each with paid adult, and kids 2 and under get in free.

Getting There: There are light rail stations across the road from the South Building on Washington Street (westbound) and Jefferson Street (eastbound). Fares are $2 for a single ride, $4 for an all-day pass.

If you’re traveling by car, take the Seventh Street exit off either Interstate 17 and 10 and head either north or south, respectively. Go west on Washington Street for four blocks and look for the convention center, which you can’t miss. As for where to stash your ride...

Parking: Around 1,800 street spaces are located around downtown and cost $1 to $1.50 per hour, per day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. (You can use the Pango service and app to pay remotely and make reservations.) Those will go fast. If you wind up using one of the many downtown garages, that will run you between $15 and $50 per day to park, depending on the spot.

Special Guests: A mix of video game voice actors, YouTube stars, competitive gamers, developers, and musicians will be in attendance at Game On Expo 2017. The list includes such names as Mega Ran, voice talents like Dave Fennoy and Patricia Summersett, YouTubers Pat “The NES Punk” Contri and Metal Jesus Rocks, the original Nintendo World Champion Thor Aackerlund, and many more. Several martial artists/actors from the first three Mortal Kombat arcade games will be on hand to mark the 25th anniversary of the franchise.

Check out our rundown of every single guest that’s scheduled to appear.

click to enlarge Old-school Nintendo cartridges for sale at last year's Game On Expo. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Old-school Nintendo cartridges for sale at last year's Game On Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman
Vendors: Lester estimates that more than 120 different vendors will be doing their thing at the Expo, ranging from stores like Game Over Games and The Gaming Zone to spots like Cobra Arcade Bar and StarFighters Arcade. There will also be an artist alley and a multitude of other geeky projects and businesses.

Programming: Various panels featuring each of the special guests will transpire throughout the weekend in two rooms adjacent to the main hall. An auction for various rare games, systems, and ephemera happens on Saturday.

Live Music: Just like last year’s event, the 2017 Expo will offer performances by a variety of musicians and bands inspired by video games, including a number of chiptune and synth-oriented artists. In addition to homegrown nerdcore star Mega Ran, the lineup will feature such acts as The Gothsicles, Bit Mortis, Kawaii Robot Shark, LNDRMN, Fygar, Neuron Spectre, Super MadNES, and Sergio and the Holograms.

click to enlarge Undertale cosplayers pose for a photo at last year's Expo. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Undertale cosplayers pose for a photo at last year's Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman
Cosplay: Costumes inspired by games, as well as other geeky subject matter, are welcome at Game On Expo. As a matter of fact, a cosplay contest for prizes will take place on Saturday evening starting at 8 p.m. Judging will take place earlier in the day, and it’s limited to 40 people. (Full details and registration can be found here.)

Since the Expo is taking place at the Phoenix Convention Center, the event will be subject to the same cosplay and prop restrictions that will be in place at Phoenix Comicon due to the arrest of gunman Matthew Sterling in May.

“To be honest, there wasn't a choice,” Lester says. “We signed on to the convention center months before the incident happened at [Phoenix] Comicon, and, obviously, everything changed.”

As such, attendees won’t be able to bring in prop guns, anything resembling a firearm, or any bladed metal or wooden weapons (such as axes or daggers). Blunt weapons like bats or clubs made from hard plastic, wood, or metal are also banned, as are whips, metal chains, paddles, and spikes.

Just like with Phoenix Comicon, there will be some compromises. Certain props and prop weapons will be allowed, provided they’re made from craft foam, lightweight plastic, resin, cardboard, or foam rubber. That includes foam rubber swords, lightweight shields, or cardboard armor. Unstrung bows, arrows secured in quivers, lightsabers, and wands are also permitted. (Full details are available on the Expo's website.)

Additionally, participants in the cosplay contest will be allowed to bring prop weapons for just the pre-judging on Saturday afternoon and the showcase that evening.

click to enlarge Playing Puzzle Fighter II at last year's Expo. - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
Playing Puzzle Fighter II at last year's Expo.
Benjamin Leatherman
Gaming: As you’d expect, there will be tons of it going on all three days. The Free Play lounge will boast more than 50 different arcade titles and pinball machines, retro and modern alike, all of which won’t require a single quarter to play.

A wide cross-section of old-school and present-day gaming consoles also will be set up, ranging from the Nintendo Entertainment System right on up to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

The “Retro Game Room” will also return and feature a slew of home consoles from throughout gaming history featured hourly, starting with the Fairchild Channel F from the late ‘70s, which was the first cartridge-based console, and ending with the Sega Dreamcast. There will even be a couch.

Tournaments and Competitions: They’ll be happening from open to close each day, including modern gaming battles organized by the AZHP and console-oriented competitions presented by the Gaming Zone. The biggest event of the expo, however, will be the Retro World Championships 2016, which will feature competitors playing a combination of NES games (Super Mario Bros. 3, Pinbot, and Dr. Mario) that was used for the the nationwide Nintendo Campus Challenge in 1991.

Be Sure to Bring: an ID, comfortable shoes, a fully charged cell phone, water and snacks, and a sense of fun and adventure.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.